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Romines v. Director of Revenue

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, Second Division

August 29, 2019

TYLER J. ROMINES, Petitioner-Respondent,
v.
DIRECTOR OF REVENUE, STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent-Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF TEXAS COUNTY Honorable Judge Kerry G. Rowden

          MARY W. SHEFFIELD, J.

         In this driver's license revocation case, the Director of Revenue ("Director") appeals a judgment reinstating the driving privileges of Tyler J. Romines ("Driver"). Director revoked Driver's driving privileges because Driver refused to submit to a chemical test of his blood alcohol content after he was arrested for driving while intoxicated. See § 302.574.1.[1] Following a hearing, the trial court reinstated Driver's driving privileges, and Director appeals. Director argues the trial court misapplied the law when it held Director had failed to meet his burden to prove Driver was "actually driving while intoxicated" rather than that the officer had "reasonable grounds to believe" Driver was driving while intoxicated. We agree, reverse the trial court's judgment, and remand this case to the trial court which is instructed to apply the correct legal analysis to the facts it found.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On March 25, 2018, at 1:33 a.m., Officer Kenneth Reynolds ("Officer Reynolds") of the Houston, Missouri Police Department observed a vehicle exceeding the speed limit by traveling 51 miles per hour in a 35 mile per hour zone. Driver was driving the vehicle. After he pulled Driver over and began speaking with Driver, Officer Reynolds smelled "a faint odor of alcohol" coming from Driver's vehicle. Driver admitted "he'd drank a couple [of] beers" and had been drinking Bud Light.

         Officer Reynolds asked Driver to perform three field sobriety tests: the horizontal gaze nystagmus ("HGN"), the walk-and-turn, and the one-leg stand. Based on Driver's performance on the HGN test, Officer Reynolds concluded Driver had "been drinking" and was "under the influence." Officer Reynolds administered the one-leg stand test, where Driver "put his foot down several times." Officer Reynolds stopped administering this test because he was afraid Driver would fall over. Regarding the walk-and-turn test, Officer Reynolds stated Driver "failed to maintain the heel-to-toe stance" and "took the incorrect number of steps."

         Officer Reynolds advised Driver he was under arrest, read him the implied consent language, and requested Driver perform a portable breath test. Driver refused to take the breath test.

         Officer Reynolds testified he believed Driver was driving while intoxicated. Driver's driving privileges were revoked because of his refusal. A trial de novo was held on August 10, 2018, and on September 17, 2018, the trial court reinstated Driver's driving privileges stating as follows:

NOW on this 17th day of September, the [c]ourt, based on the credibility of the witness's testimony presented by [Director] at the hearing on August 10, 2018, and upon receipt and review of [Driver's] and [Director's] Memos in support of their respective positions, finds that [Director] has not met its burden on the issue of whether or not [Driver] was driving a motor vehicle in an intoxicated or drugged condition under RSMo. §302.574.4, and, therefore, finds in favor of [Driver].
THEREFORE, the [c]ourt orders the [Director] to reinstate [Driver's] driving privilege and expunge from it[s] records any and all references to this action and the refusal of [Driver] to comply with RSMo. §§302.574 and 577.041.

(emphasis added). A notice of appeal was timely filed.

         Standard of Review

         Appeals arising from a trial court's judgment in a driver's license revocation case are governed by the same standard of review as other court-tried civil cases. White v. Dir. of Revenue, 321 S.W.3d 298, 307 (Mo. banc 2010); Mills v. Dir. of Revenue, 568 S.W.3d 904, 906-07 (Mo. App. W.D. 2019). That is, the trial court's judgment will be affirmed "unless there is no substantial evidence to support it, unless the decision is contrary to the weight of the evidence, or unless the trial court erroneously declares or applies the law." Hinnah v. Dir. of Revenue, 77 S.W.3d 616, 620 (Mo. banc 2002). Legal issues are reviewed de novo. White, 321 S.W.3d at 308. "When the facts relevant to an issue are contested, the reviewing court defers to the trial court's assessment of the evidence." Id. "This Court ...


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